Thursday, August 28, 2008


Back in the Cold War, when Germany was on the front line, we practiced reinforcing NATO in our REFORGER exercises. REFORGER stood for return of forces to Germany. We kept unit sets of equipment for several heavy armored brigades and practiced airlifting the soldiers to fall in on that equipment. It was much faster than sending the unit by sea.

The return of a belligerent Russia means that the age of peace is over in Europe. Which means that the logic of reducing our Army in Europe is blown away, killed in Gori, Georgia under the weight of Russian armor.

I worried about the Russian threat to eastern Europe two years ago and our plans to reduce our Army in Europe:

The only two ground combat brigades to be permanently stationed there will be the separate brigades not associated with any of our divisions: 2nd ACR (Stryker) and 173rd AB Brigade. Other ground combat units will rotate in from CONUS to Bulgaria and Romania (two brigades total?).

One heavy brigade will stay a little longer in Germany than originally planned.

I don't assume this is the last word on how USAREUR will look. Given how Russia is acting lately, how long before Poland and the Baltic states want US troops on the ground?

Not long at all, as it turns out.

Five years ago, I argued in the pages of Military Review that we needed to maintain a corps-sized ground force in Europe (link updated: see my article third in the table of contents) optimized for deploying from bases in western Europe to an arc of crisis from West Africa to Central Asia. Specifically I though elements of our 18th Airborne Corps should be our Europe-based force:

Deploying anything less than a corps in Europe would create a force with no capacity for decisive, sustained action, and such a force would be correctly perceived as nothing more than a token force. A heavy armor capability (from the 1st Infantry Division) to bolster the corps’ light mechanized force and light infantry would be necessary.

It is apparent that the arc of crisis also takes a hard left and extends through the Caucasus, Ukraine, eastern Europe, and the Baltic states. We now need a robust United States Army Europe to cope with the Russians pining for past glory days.

A corps-sized force of five American brigades would be able to rush east along with whatever forces our NATO allies can muster to reinforce eastern European NATO members, should they be threatened by Russia. Our traditional NATO allies must increase their power projection ability, starting with the ability to deploy to eastern Europe by land links rather than their farcical effort to create a force able to deploy globally.

Our new NATO allies in eastern Europe must turn away from building small power projection forces to fight with us abroad in war or peacekeeping missions, and make themselves a hard target that can absorb and defeat a Russian ground attack. These forces must be numerous and designed to defeat conventional massed armored attacks:

Eastern Europeans have to do much more to prepare a robust defense. They should double their military spending to make themselves into porcupine states that even the Russian bear can't swallow.

The U.S. can help, as we helped the Afghans in the 1980s and as the French helped the Poles in 1920. That will require a readjustment in our military assistance strategy, which has been to create in Eastern Europe miniature copies of our own armed forces. Our hope, largely realized, has been that these states will help us in our own military commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. But in addition to developing NATO-style expeditionary capacity, these states need to be able to conduct a defense in depth.

That means having large reserves ready for fast call-up and plenty of defensive weapons -- in particular portable missile systems such as the Stinger and Javelin capable of inflicting great damage on Russia's lumbering air and armor forces. That's more important than fielding their own tanks or fighter aircraft. We should offer to sell them these relatively inexpensive defensive systems, and to provide the advisory services to make the best use of them. But the first step has to be for the Eastern Europeans to make a larger commitment to their own defense.

Defending in place should be their job.

In addition to maintaining sufficient forces deployed in Europe able to move east to reinforce the eastern European NATO frontline states, we should establish American, British, and German equipment depots for additional heavy brigades in southern Poland. If we can fly in troops to man these forces, in a return of forces to Poland (REFORPOL) concept, we'd enhance deterrence without forward deploying powerful NATO offensive units that would scare the Russians in reality instead of their faux fear of Georgians and Latvians. Those units could swing north or south or stay put once manned and fielded.

So far, counting on a benign Russia that is a strategic partner, we've extended NATO membership east without extending NATO military strength east in any significant fashion. It is time to correct that mistake. Russia has shown they'll strike at gaps in our defenses. Fill those gaps.